10 Incredible Pigeon Facts

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: June 16, 2022
Image Credit N.Z.Photography/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Pigeons are incredible birds of the Columbidae family. They derive their name from the Latin word “pipio,” which means “a young chirping bird.” They are pretty cool birds, despite being described as “rats with wings,” a phrase that has been popularized by the movie “Stardust Memories.”

The habitats of pigeons include temperate forests, deciduous forests, rainforests, arboreal, and swampy areas. They can quickly adapt to rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. Pigeons are considered docile, an outlook that has led to the rise of phrases like “being pigeonholed” and “stool pigeon,” among others.

From homing instincts to making considerable contributions to humanity, especially in times of war, here are ten incredible facts about pigeons!

Only The Top 1% Can Ace our Animal Quizzes

Think You Can?

1. Pigeons have a map sense.

pigeon in flight
Pigeons have map and compass senses that help them determine direction.

N.Z.Photography/Shutterstock.com

According to a publication in the Nature Journal, pigeons have map and compass senses that help them determine direction. They can find their way back to the nest from 1,300 miles away. Research theories point out the basis of this to be through the help of olfactory and magnetic cues, though this has been the subject of debate in other research.

It is because of their mapping abilities that pigeons were used in ancient Greek for nationwide announcements and mail delivery. In the book “Pigeons, the fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird,” Andrew Blechman points out that pigeons were used to deliver the results of the first Olympics in 776 B.C. 

The Chinese emperor received regular messages in Beijing from other provinces using pigeons, which took less time than horses. Ghengis Khan and his grandson introduced a pigeon post that covered a large area, estimated to be up to one-sixth of the world, and was the fastest way to send messages for thousands of years, thanks to pigeons.

2. Pigeons have been deployed in wars

Pigeons’ homing abilities continued to shape history during the 20th century. Thousands of pigeons served in World War I and II. Before that, several pigeons were decorated for bravery, having delivered crucial messages in different militaries that saved thousands of human lives. 

One of the racing pigeons, Cher Ami, completed a critical mission and rescued 194 stranded United States soldiers on October 4, 1918.

3. Pigeons are highly respected in several religions

Pigeon in flight
White pigeons are considered by Christians to be a symbol of peace and purity, as well as the holy spirit.

Frank Cornelissen/Shutterstock.com

Pigeons signify various things in different religions. White pigeons are considered by Christians to be a symbol of peace and purity, as well as the holy spirit. 

In Islam, pigeons have a special place and must be treated as such. Large flocks of pigeons can be sighted near mosques being fed on grains by the faithful. Islam has granted these birds safety, sanctity, peace, and freedom. 

In Mecca, large flocks can be found being fed by pilgrims. The Sikhs are keen to feed and care for the pigeons’ well-being in honor of Guru Gobind Singh, who was considered a friend of the rock dove.

4. Pigeons are the world’s first domesticated birds

Pigeons are subtle and obliging birds that have no aggressive tendencies, making them very easy to domesticate. Archaeologists estimate that the Sumerians in Mesopotamia started domesticating wild pigeons and were the first people to do so. 

Pigeon pictures were discovered that date back to 4,500 BCE in modern Iraq. Since then, pigeons have been wonderful pets, spiritual symbols, and valuable food sources for thousands of years.

5. Pigeons are complex and brilliant birds

According to research on record in the American Psychological Association, carneaux and homing pigeons had the ability to differentiate between paintings, pictures of trees, water bodies, and people. 

It has also been discovered that pigeons can differentiate between actual words and strings of letters. Besides, they are a model species of cognitive neuroscience owing to their intelligence and ability to be conditioned easily.

6. Pigeons are incredible athletes

Pigeons have become the subject of an internationally famous sport, pigeon racing, because of their swiftness.

Alice Arts Bar/Shutterstock.com

Homing pigeons are known to fly over five hundred miles at speeds of 60 miles per hour or more in a single day without making stopovers for food or water. They have become the subject of an internationally famous sport, pigeon racing, because of their swiftness. 

The sport of pigeon racing involves releasing trained pigeons and having them fly back to their loft. The time and distance they take to fly back home are carefully considered to determine the winner. People usually make bets, which can be in the range of millions of dollars.

7. Pigeons are very social birds 

Pigeons are highly sociable. Unlike other bird species, pigeons are often sighted in groups of 20–30 birds. If you keep them as pets, you will most likely notice that they don’t like being alone. If no other birds are around, pigeons will stay closer to you and tolerate being held and touched.

8. Pigeons have famous fanciers

While pigeons make it to the list of one of the most reviled birds, they are also one of the most revered, attracting the love of some of the most popular people, from members of royal families to famous scientists and politicians. 

King Edward, Queen Elizabeth, and King George have maintained a royal loft because of their love for pigeons. Other famous pigeon fanciers include Mike Tyson, Elvis Presley, Ray Rice, Charles Darwin, and Walt Disney.

9. Pigeons can grasp the concept of space and time

Red Eyed Pigeon walks on a rock to go and eat
Pigeons can discriminate against the abstract concept of time and space.

Alta Oosthuizen/Shutterstock.com

According to a study by the University of Iowa, pigeons can discriminate against the abstract concept of time and space. In the experiment, a static horizontal line was shown on a computer screen to the pigeons, where they were supposed to judge the length or duration of time the line remained visible to them. 

The pigeons judged lines longer in duration to be also longer. The reverse was true, too; pigeons thought it existed in time for a longer duration if they encountered a longer line.

10. Pigeons mate for life

Pigeons mate for life and will raise up to six broods of two eggs a year. However, if one partner dies, the survivor will generally attempt to find another mate. A courting male pursues his target on the ground, circling her from time to time with his inflated neck feathers and spread tail, bowing and cooing until he wins her.

Share this post on:

More from A-Z Animals